UFC fans across the globe are anticipating Conor McGregor's return to the octagon with bated breath. The promotion's first-ever two-division champion has not set foot in the cage since his devastating leg break against Dustin Poirier. During his nearly two-year absence, much has transpired.
Champions have risen and fallen. New contenders have emerged, while others have suffered eventual career downswings. Yet despite talks of the fight game supposedly passing him by, lightweights and welterweights continue to challenge the Irishman for his return bout.
Regardless of his time away from the sport, 'The Notorious' remains the UFC's most lucrative fight. Dana White—the UFC's president—has a range of different opponents who could face his greatest star upon his eventual return. This list identifies five such foes.
#5. Rafael Fiziev, UFC lightweight
Rafael Fiziev is a former Muay Thai champion. The Russian striker is at the forefront of a new generation of lightweights. Not only is he a young 29-year old at the peak of his athletic prowess, but he is riding a six-fight win streak. 'Ataman' recently defeated former 155 lbs champion Rafael dos Anjos.
A potential matchup with the former Russian kickboxer makes sense for Conor McGregor. He is a fresh foe who presents an exciting stylistic clash. Rafael Fiziev is an aggressive Muay Thai specialist with blistering speed and exceptional finishing instincts. If the two fight, the bout will certainly end via KO or TKO.
Furthermore, there's a built-in storyline. Due to 'Ataman's' penchant for leaning back to evade high kicks, 'The Notorious' claimed that switching to an ax kick mid-kick would catch the Russian off-guard. However, doing so is anatomically impossible, as 'Ataman' pointed out.
Rafael Fiziev taunted the Irishman by accusing him of living in a fantasy world. The retort led to a heated response from Conor McGregor, who demanded respect. The Twitter exchange culminated with the 29-year old implying that his divisional rival consumed drugs and alcohol prior to every tweet.
#4. Rafael dos Anjos, UFC lightweight
The Brazilian great was once a scheduled opponent of Conor McGregor. During the Irishman's ascension, he was booked to face Rafael dos Anjos for the Brazilian's then lightweight title. The matchup was set for UFC 196 but a fractured foot derailed the bout entirely.
Instead, Conor McGregor faced Nate Diaz in the first of two of the most exciting lightweight fights in UFC history. Interest in a matchup involving 'RDA' dwindled until recent developments. Prior to his trilogy bout against Dustin Poirier at UFC 264, Conor McGregor was involved in a backstage confrontation with 'RDA'.
Afterwards, the Irishman took aim at the Brazilian great on social media by demanding to face him on the same night that he'd fight 'The Diamond'. In response, Rafael dos Anjos took a swipe at Proper No. Twelve Irish whiskey by claiming that his rival's delusions came from drinking cheap whiskey.
Since those developments, 'RDA' has campaigned for a money fight against 'The Notorious'. A potential bout would be easy to market for the UFC, and it is a winnable fight for Conor McGregor, who is in dire need of a win to rebuild himself.
#3. Justin Gaethje, UFC lightweight
As is the case with many lightweights, Justin Gaethje has history with Conor McGregor. The two-time lightweight title challenger has been the recipient of the Irishman's Twitter jabs. Conversely, 'The Notorious' has earned Justin Gaethje's irate criticism over the years.
The animosity between the two peaked during the former WSOF lightweight champion's failed attempt at dethroning Khabib Nurmagomedov. Prior to the bout, Conor McGregor taunted 'The Highlight' by claiming that he didn't represent America.
In the wake of the American's submission loss, the Irishman heavily criticized Gaethje's ground game. Meanwhile, Gaethje expressed his desire to rid the sport of McGregor by beating him to the point of no return. He even questioned McGregor's worth as a father.
While the bout never materialized, it was one that 'The Highlight' campaigned for even prior to facing Nurmagomedov. Now with the Irishman's return fast approaching, the matchup makes perfect sense. There is history between the two and the matchup is guaranteed to produce fireworks.
#2. Jorge Masvidal, UFC welterweight
In the span of three years, Jorge Masvidal went from a relative unknown in the eyes of casual fans to one of the UFC's biggest stars. Becoming the first fighter to KO Darren Till sparked fan interest. Breaking the record for the fastest knockout in UFC history immortalized him.
However, it was his TKO win over Nate Diaz that launched him into superstardom. Unfortunately, since capturing the symbolic 'BMF' title, 'Gamebred' has found himself on a rough patch. The former lightweight is on a three-fight losing streak. Regardless, his disdain for grappling and his love for striking make him a fun fight.
Not only will he offer Conor McGregor a striking bout without grappling, but he is also a massive star who presents a winnable fight. The two men have some history due to Jorge Masvidal's repeated attempts at challenging 'The Notorious'. On his front, Conor McGregor taunted him during his UFC 246 post-fight interview.
Additionally, the Irishman recently gained a considerable amount of muscle mass. He won't have to lose much of his newly gained muscle mass due to 'Gamebred' being a welterweight. A possible matchup would also be easy to promote due to both men's instincts for trash talk.
#1. Charles Oliveira, UFC lightweight
Despite Charles Oliveira's role as a fixture in the lightweight division, 'do Bronx' has expressed a willingness to face Conor McGregor at welterweight. During the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt's thrilling title reign, he frequently challenged the Irishman to a title fight.
While many fans criticized Oliveira for his interest in granting McGregor an undeserved title fight, the former Brazilian champion was adamant. He was transparent, stating that he deserved a money fight and that 'The Notorious' was his most lucrative option.
He went as far as claiming that he could KO Conor McGregor and submit Nate Diaz on a single night if the UFC permitted it. In return, the Irishman insulted his Brazilian rival by telling him to return to the favelas. While Charles Oliveira has since lost the title, he is still an attractive foe for 'The Notorious'.
The Brazilian grappler is the greatest finisher in UFC history and one of the promotion's most exciting fighters. He is an action-fighter through and through. Similarly, Conor McGregor is an action-fighter who either finishes his foes or gets finished.
The bout will have a certain element of prestige by featuring two former champions. Furthermore, it is Conor McGregor's chance to prove that he can still contend with the elites of the current lightweight division after his recent failures. A win over 'do Bronx', even at 170 lbs, will certainly catapult him into title contention.